Thursday, May 31, 2012

Night Walker (Donald Hamilton, 1954)

First 90% of this book is simply brilliant and a reason why I go through so much shitty and mediocre pulps. It’s all worth in the end to read such quality stuff. Story is pretty simple and we’ve heard it all before many times. We have this mistaken identity man without a face with a shady past who gets involved in some sinister happening together with this strange femme fatale.

What I loved about it is that our hero basically has no influence whatsoever on events and actions. He just sits tight (or lies injured in the bed) in this big old mansion house and is totally puzzled and powerless to control situation. His instincts keep telling him he’s being fucked and his “partner in crime” dame is lying and misleading him and destroying evidence all the time but for some reason he just doesn’t pack his stuff and leave. And in the meantime plot is progressing as we are introduced to few pretty colourful characters (victim’s young friend/possible lover, her eccentric aunt, local doctor with secret/strange motives) and some sinister background involving international espionage. End of the story is rather disappointing but more about that later.

Our main protagonist is cool but Carol definitely steals the show from him and I cannot remember the last time I encountered such a cool femme fatale. I would like to think that author himself liked her a lot because descriptions of her are much better and detailed than those of the other characters. Just loved those southern “I declare”! And she is 'fatale' all right – the only constant thing about her is that she’s constantly lying. Cool thing is that our hero also knows that and here is short outline about their relationship’s progression:
  1.  Her voice was sweet and wholly insincere, yet her nearness was pleasant and reassuring. He said, “Elizabeth, you’re a fraud. If I went near that phone, you’d probably shoot me.”
  2. He wanted very much to trust her but knew that he couldn’t afford to. Theirs was not a relationship built upon trust and respect but simply upon loneliness and mutual need.
  3. Neither of them had said anything; there had been nothing to say. Her whole story had been a fabric of deceit.
  4. He did not look at her. He knew her well enough now that he did not even have to see her face to know when she was lying, although her reasons were not always clear.
  5. He found that he was thinking of her very much in the way he might have thought of a girl who had contracted a disease from which she was not expected to recover.
Marvellous, isn’t it?! Writing is superb anyhow and has this really claustrophobic feeling to it. Story starts in the car, then moves for a short period of time to a hospital and then takes place for the most part in a secluded house and finally ends on the boat. And our main protagonist has his face covered in bandages which also emphasizes confinement. Simply brilliant, it reads like a play and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

Like said, ending is a bit disappointing. Not because it’s bad, it’s just that tension is built so well that you expect some big surprising twist. After all that careful plotting and scheming it deserves better, more hard-boiled climax with some shocking revelation but instead it just settles for quite ordinary espionage thriller conclusion. But I don’t really mind because everything else is perfect!



David Young, Navy Lieutenant, 29.

place near Bayport, Maryland

Body count
3 (and it’s pretty cool because number once actually decreases!)

Elizabeth Wilson

Cool lines:
We’re all real respectable folks, and this is our first kidnapping.

It was a house that took itself seriously, but the shaggy condition of the grounds gave it an unkempt look, like that of an elderly aristocratic gentleman with alcoholic tendencies.

The Valley of Fear (Arthur Conan Doyle, 1915)

Not good at all, really struggled to get through this one. It's divided into two parts and the first one is just an average classic detective mystery and second one is truly terrible. 

It starts with Holmes receiving a ciphered message announcing some terrible crime to be committed. He of course easily cracks this code (pretty obvious one in my opinion) and in no time at all it also turns out that dark force behind this “sinister affair” is – once more – none other than Sherlock’s mortal enemy Dr. Moriarty. 

And here is where I started to dislike the book already. Is there really a need to involve this criminal mastermind in every single crime Holmes investigates?  I’m perfectly okay about him fucking with highly secret state affairs documents, blackmailing politicians, stealing priceless art works and so on. But come on! I find it hard to believe that in the meantime he can manage to find time and resources for every single petty crime. But I’m a bit ahead of myself here because at this point in the book we still don’t know that our crime is/will indeed be petty (spoiler - it is). Another thing about this Moriarty business is that he is simply introduced too early in the story. At this point there’s absolutely no need for some ominous background, anonymous tip would do just fine. Smart writer would probably use him to increase suspense later in the book.

So now crime has been committed and Holmes with Dr. Watson and cop (sorry, it’s of course inspector/constable) named MacDonald (nope, no Lestrade in this one) rushes to – surprise, surprise- English countryside to an old house (ups sorry – it’s actually called mansion). Here they find murdered man’s best friend, his wife and – another surprise, you won’t believe this – fucking butler! And beside these people, there’s just one more character - some mysterious and of course sinister stranger who has arrived to near village hotel just shortly before the crime and disappeared afterwards. So Holmes has really hard job on his hands, right? 

And we follow his unusual methods, witty observations, arrogance and so on to the final shocking conclusion. But it’s hardly some big twist since dead guy’s face was blown off by the shotgun and you can smell change of identity trick right from the start.

In all honesty, it’s not as bad as it sounds. It is good old fashioned Sherlock Holmes mystery, maybe a bit predictable, but still quite enjoyable although sometimes hard to follow for non native English speaker because of all that crappy archaic language. 

Second part is totally redundant and I have no idea about why it was ever written. It has next to nothing to do with the first one and it gives impression that Mr. Doyle was getting paid by the number of pages. So do yourself a favor and close this book after the first part. You’ll save some time and keep respect for the old master and his famous detective.



Sherlock Holmes

Body count
one in the first part, many in second

Dames: You kidding? 

By Glen Orbik. I liked the colors, but girl's facial expression could be more terrified.

First part starts in London and quickly moves to English countryside, second part takes place in some god forsaken mining town in the States.

The Burglar in the Closet (Lawrence Block, 1978)

Got this one at the flea market for a couple of Euros. I’m not Block’s biggest fan but was totally persuaded by this weird cover. Which - amazingly enough - I cannot find on internet so I took a shot of it myself for your viewing pleasure. Its author is a guy named Alan Forster and after a bit of googling, this could be him.

Back cover quotes Robert Ludlum saying that this is “Light-hearted crime at its very best”. I’m not sure if this light-hearted crap was actual category back in those days but I’m positive that nowadays this novel would end up in so called “young adults” section of the bookstore instead of “crime”. It’s not bad and I’ll probably give it to my nephew when he’ll be 15 but it’s just not my cup of tea. 

It’s centred on this amateurish detective whose day job's a burglar. He gets involved in some far-fetched story of burglary/murder mystery involving his dentist (!) and to make things worse he gets help from another amateur in dentist’s secretary (!!). And yes, of course he scores. 

Main problem is a lack of classical detective work based on logic. Our hero basically cracks the case by getting drunk with a victim's good friend who supplies him a list of three men that used to fuck unfortunate Crystal (the victim). They are The Legal Beagle (a lawyer), Grabow the Artist (a painter) and Knobby the Bartender (yes, you’ve guessed it – he’s a bartender) and they become center of his investigation and his only suspects (remember Cutie?). He cannot trace one of them but breaks into homes of the other two and – true enough – they are both involved. In the meantime, just to fill the gaps I imagine, he must also deal with some good cops and some corrupted cops and some lawyers (they are all bastards anyhow). He’s so ridiculous incompetent that he digs himself a hole too deep to get out of and he even considers hiring a real PI to get him off the hook. I shit you not, here’s a quote: “Maybe I can hire a private detective to investigate this thing professionally. I’m not having much luck as an amateur”. I know of course this was meant to be ironic, but to me it’s just pathetic…

I also had problem with the writing style which keeps trying to be amusing and witty. It’s not as annoying as Jonny Porkpie’s (nothing is) but I still struggled to finish this without much yawning. At least is not very long one.



My name is Bernie Rhodenbarr and I’m a thief and I love to steal. I just plain love it.

Body count
4, all pretty uninspiring. For one of them it’s not even clear if there was murder or was it an accident or maybe even suicide.

an ex-wife and a secretary

Location: NYC, 70s

Cool lines:
The problem, of course, derived from an offshoot of Parkinson’s Law. A person, be he bureaucrat or burglar, tends to take for a task as much time as is available for it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Corpse wore Pasties (Jonny Porkpie, 2009)

Truly horrible, I strongly suggest you keep away from it!

Again we are in NYC in the sleazy surrounding (this time it’s burlesque) and basically what happens is close to this: there’s a show where one of performers gets killed on the stage and our hero is present among few other strippers (dancing girls). For the reasons not clear (at least not to me) he becomes main suspect, so for the rest of the book he wonders around (because his time is running out…) trying to prove his innocence by playing amateur detective who more or less just interviews remaining five girls in somewhat bizarre/amusing (we’ll come to that again shortly) circumstances. In all this time only three more characters are introduced: producer of the show who is another burlesque artist, our hero’s wife (yes, another one) and some “creep in the overcoat”.

So we face Agatha Christie kind of shitty set-up of some exotic environment where murder strikes unexpectedly and there’s closed circle of suspects, each of them of course having bulletproof alibi. I swear to god that in the middle of this crap I actually thought about “Murder on the Orient Express”. Because, you see, our victim wasn’t popular with any of the other protagonists because she stole their burlesque acts. Which is apparently such a big deal in the dirty, sinister and morally corrupted underworld of NYC burlesque that one can easily get killed for?

Idea about twisting classical crime genre and its main protagonist into some unusual (sub)cultural environment is certainly not new one and probably some skilful writer could even get away somehow with such a poor story and lack of plot/mystery/suspense/whatever. What makes this novel painful to read is its “humorous” tone. Author is constantly trying to be clever and witty, but jokes are really pathetic. I don’t know, I guess some 15 years adolescent will find them funny, I certainly felt sometimes like putting off cigarettes in my palm. And it gets from bad to worse when Jonny Porkpie feels a need to apologize for his bad jokes, like:

  • “Sorry about that. Habit. That sort of gag usually gets a laugh when I’m onstage, hosting a show…”
  • “The rest of you won’t have any idea what that last sentence means, but trust me; it’s hilarious”
  • “She smiled, to indicate that she was aware that I was attempting to be amusing.”
  • “Neither of us laughed, probably because it wasn’t funny”

And this relentless shit just doesn’t stop. It goes on and on and on and becomes truly unbearable when he even starts to explain these “jokes” in case we are too stupid to get them. I think the only one I actually liked was when he called investigating police officers Brooklyn and Bronx. But this is ruined immediately in the next paragraph when we learn that “Those weren’t the officer’s name, by the way. Those were their accents.” No shit, really?!!?

Enough of this ranting, it was more than this book deserves anyway and it only made me pissed off again. I try to find something different, interesting, amusing, basically anything good in any book I read, but really nothing at all is here. Sorry Jonny Porkpie, but I don’t think we’ll ever meet again.



Jonny Porkpie, “the Burlesque Mayor of New York City”. Cops sometimes refer to him as “Senator of Striptease”

New York, present time

burlesque dancers Victoria Vice, Cherries Jubilee, Jillian Knockers, Angelina Blood, Eva Desire, Brioche a Tete, LuLu LaRue and Filthy Lucre. Plus some chick with blue Mohawk playing in heavy metal band. Btw, a bit off topic – I’ve seen million of punk/hard-core bands and thousands of metal bands and can’t remember the last time I saw chick with Mohawk in metal band…

Body count: 1

Cool lines
none as far as I’m concerned, but I’m pretty sure Mr. Porkpie thinks every single sentence is divine.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Cutie (Donald E. Westlake, 1962)

Okay, cutie is not really that good looking chick on (as usually brilliant) hard case crime cover. It’s an expression that NYC biggest crime czar uses for murderer of some no-name starlet. Besides killing the poor soul this cutie character also tries to pin crime to some no-name stuttering junkie. And this junkie has apparently some connections in Europe, so czar is pissed off at cutie and he wants him punished. And this is where his right man – our hero – Clay comes into the play.

Sounds a bit far-fetched? It does, at least for me. But good thing is that story is masterfully told and you don’t have time to think about how idiotic the plot really is in its essence. And so for the first third you are really involved in it but then it unfortunately starts to fall apart. My main problem is total lack of any real investigation or classical detective work. Because Clay basically just compiles a list of victim’s ex husbands and boyfriends and then goes through it eliminating them one by one. It gets pretty absurd when at the end (pg. 221 to be precise) even occurs to him “that if was just barely possible that the killer wasn’t on my list at all.” And he’s not very skillful investigator in the first place to be honest. He uses “organization” to do most of the dirty work for him, but when he himself is interrogating suspects he comes up with shit like “I can’t think of any more questions. Can you think of any more answers?”

So you are not too disappointed/surprised by the ending. Without giving much away let’s just say that unfortunate girl wanted to hire a lawyer to handle her divorce and out of all the lawyers in New York, she picked her own husband. Come on Donald, get real!

So like in 361 it has great start and mediocre ending. Westlake is not really good at plotting but he is great at language and characterizations. Although that Ella chick was a bit redundant for me. She didn’t contribute anything to the story and was used only (1) to show that our hero possesses at least some kind of morals and has second thoughts about his work and (2) to also show at the end that he's too tough to afford having morals. Or something like that. Who cares anyway...



Clay. Long time ago he was George Clayton, today he is just Clay. He’s a right hand and troubleshooter of Ed Ganolese “crime czar” (in the tabloids) with a finger in the pie. Any pie. For cops he is “penny-ante crook with half an education, half a conscience, and half a mind

New York, early 60s

2 victims + Ella, first woman that makes Clay think about leaving his job.

Excellent one, done by Ken Laager

Body count: 4

Cool lines:
He kept shaking like an IBM machine gone crazy. (on junkie)

Billy-Billy doesn’t have strength to kill time (on the same junkie)

“Mavis St. Paul”. “Mavis?” He snickered again. “I’ll look for a broad named Mildred who came from St. Paul.”

His secretary, a big, well-busted, well-hipped blonde with an I-know-what-you-want-and-it-will-cost-you expression perpetually on her face, was just getting settled behind her desk.

Laura Marshall is easily described. It only takes four words. She’s a rich bitch suburban matron.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The sins of the Fathers (Lawrence Block, 1967)

This is the first one in the still ongoing (approaching 20 books) series of Matt Scudder mysteries and it’s a bit boring one to be honest. I think it tries too hard to be unusual and original. For the start it builds on this premise that it isn’t really crime novel since there is no crime to start with!? Thing is that our hero is just hired to uncover secret past life of murdered girl so her step-father can cope with her dead. And our hero is not really a detective, but as he puts it himself: “Private detectives are licensed. They tap telephones and follow people. They fill out forms, they keep records, all of that. I don’t do those things. Sometimes I do favors for people. They give me gifts.”

So he’s not stereotypical “by the book” kind of tough guy (although he kicks one mugger’s ass big time, takes his money and – check this! – breaks four of his fingers one at the time. What a bad ass!). Not much of ladies man either, once he cannot even get it up (probably because he’s too involved in the “case”). He’s divorced and has left police department because he had incidentally killed a little girl and this still haunts him so he’s drinking too much and lightning candles in churches and shit like that.

As far as mystery is concerned, things are of course not as simple as they appear (they never are in crime books), but we get pretty strong hint somewhere in the middle (as the title wasn’t big enough spoiler) and final revelation is everything but shocking.

All in all I kind of liked it but there’s simply not enough happening and it deals far too much with this guy and not enough with the story. I don’t know, maybe because it’s the first one with Block’s new hero and he needs more detailed introduction. Writing is superb and it really has this bleak and sometimes depressive tone and feeling. I’ll definitely check another of Scudder cases.



Matt Scudder, ex-cop who is now doing favors for people and gets gifts in return.

New York, early 70s

Wendy (victim), Marcia (her ex roommate), Trina (Matts’s friend/fuck buddy, I’m not really sure), Elaine (prostitute, also kind of Matt’s friend), Anita (Matt’s ex-wife, but we don’t really get to know her)

Body count: 3

Cool lines:
Sex – evil, unscrupulous sex – gives certain woman an extraordinary hold upon susceptible men. Man is weakling, Mr Scudder, and he is so often powerless to cope with the awful of an evil woman’s sexuality.

He sat few minutes in silence. I took out my flask and had another drink. Drinking was against his religion. Well, murder was against mine.

Songs of Innocence (Richard Aleas, 2007)

This is follow up to Little Girl Lost and once again we are with John Blake and it's three years after he had re-discovered (and lost again) Miranda, love of his life. He is now even more guilt ridden, has left private detective business and is working at the college where he also attends free courses, one of them creative writing. But again it turns out he has bad luck with women because his recent girlfriend is found dead in the bathtub and her mother doesn’t quite believe she killed herself and neither does our hero. So stage is ready for the investigation!

And then we are slowly drawn into this strange mixture of dark family secrets, violent organized crime, weird characters and their relationships on student campus and so on. Lots of colourful people are introduced and most of them far from typical stereotypes so you are never quite sure whether they are good or bad (Michael seems to be pretty cool but he’s definitely under-used and especially Julie is intriguing one; in the middle I was sure she’s the guilty one). Plot is somehow linear without major leaps into the past or something like that, but it’s developed masterfully and has few dead-ends, so again you are not sure which indices are cold ones. Events are unfolding pretty rapidly over a period of few days and our hero can hardly find time (and place) to get some sleep. Like in Little Girl Lost, New York City plays major role as a dark sinister background of the story and you can feel author’s love (or maybe obsession?) with the city but here it is more toned down and not so intrusive for my taste. 

Everything, except maybe a lack of wittier dialogues with some slang, reminded me sometimes strongly on Chandler’s Marlowe. More modern type of sleuth of course (really liked stuff with internet email), but still – our hero is wondering in the big corrupt city on his lonely stubborn pursuit of his understanding (and of course enforcing) of the justice, honour and loyalty. He’s not too sure about himself, haunted by demons from the past, beaten frequently, doesn’t trust the police, doesn’t accept much of the help and is ultimately betrayed again by his loved ones (well, kind of). He never really controls the situation, it’s more like other way around: “I felt like the last pawn on a chessboard, rooks and knights and bishops closing in on every side. I was inching toward the far side of the board and I wasn’t going to make it”. 

Good stuff indeed, although I do have few little complains. First of all, John should be a bit tougher. Being nerd with glasses is kind of okay, but PI (even an ex one) shouldn’t really be concerned with train conductors. Also relationship with Dorrie is a bit strange and ambiguous, we never quite know if they were just fuck buddies or were actually in love. We do get some kind of explanation when John’s friend suggests to him they were Porn Buddies. After he stares blankly (me too for that matter) he does get definition, I quote: “You know - when two guys agree that if anything happens to them, the other will come over and clear out his buddy’s stash or porn before the guy’s parents or girlfriend can stumble onto it.” We learn something new every day, but somehow it still doesn’t seem realistic why should he get to all this trouble if they weren’t really that close. Finally, I’ve found last part before revelation to be a bit too long and Philadelphia episode somehow redundant. True, it does introduce key character, but I think it takes too long and slows down plot unnecessarily.

My last little rent goes to the structure of the book. It has three parts and first one is told in flash-back and then story goes into “real time” mode. I find this a bit superficial and kind of pretentious. And each of the parts starts with William Blake’s quotes that I can really connect to the story. To me this is just intellectual crap, but probably because I’m not native English speaker. Maybe you can give it a try. Here’s the first one, from where this little masterpiece got its title:

Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief? 

William Blake, Songs of Innocence


John Blake, age 31. Ex private investigator. He also gets some help from his old (ex girl) friend Susan who used to be stripper and is now private investigator.

NYC, briefly Philadelphia
Dorothy aka Dorrie, student with troubled past and dark family history. She is also masseuse who draws prostitution line at the blow job.

Body count
5, maybe/probably 6 (4 murders, 1 suicide, 1 most likely suicide; 2 bad guys, 4 innocent)

Good and pulpy but not very accurate. At least I can't remember no naked chick covering herself with a teddy bear and a gun. By Glen Orbik.

Cool lines:  
I don’t bother nobody. Just do my job. I’ll work for whoever pays me. I don’t care if he’s white, black, Hungarian, whatever. You show me the green, I’ll show you the pink.